August 26, 2012

Cuenca, Ecuador: It Can Be a Social Whirl

The Coopera restaurant in San Joaquin
August is almost over. Where the heck did the last four months go? Oh, yeah. We jumped continents.

For the "getting settled" part of our adventure, mostly it's going smoothly. We like our apartment; it's pretty and we each have our own office. However, I would change a few things, like the oven that doesn't really work and the tiny one-bowl sink. It would also be nice if the washing machine had hot-water wash, but that luxury is starting to appear only in the newest construction in Cuenca. And, I would like a freezer I didn't have to defrost. And the stove doesn't really simmer. So, I bought a single-burner hot plate for soups and sauces and a toaster oven for grilling and baking, which I am learning to navigate. It's all just a matter of working with what we have.

And since there is no central heating, and we are in winter, we will be scouting out a propane heater for the living/dining room. After we get that, we can actually think of hosting dinner parties and other get-togethers for the new friends we have made. Looking forward to that.

On the positive side, we have amazing Ecuadorian neighbors who have been so welcoming and generous in assisting us with getting settled (and helped me learn how to get the propane delivered — over the phone, in Spanish). Another good thing is that we are on the ground floor, so I don't have to navigate large amounts of stairs on a regular basis (my knees are loving this, and are actually improving). 

We are set back from one of the main drags, which makes getting a taxi a snap — no need to call for one as the most I have ever had to wait was ten minutes. As for traffic noise, we are urban types and actually miss the background of people and traffic if a place is too quiet. In addition, our apartment is close to the main university, so it is a lively student-oriented neighborhood (and the modern university performing arts center is only two blocks away).

August 23, 2012

It’s Jeff’s Fault — Or How I Became a NASCAR Fan

Joey Logano accepting the 2009 Rookie of the Year award
Photo by Jeff Speer

For most of my adult life, I have lived in a world of dancers, writers, artists and artisans, and academics. You know the drill — urban, chic, and totally involved in their creations and all their projects. Not exactly breeding ground for NASCAR fans. Oh, you get the occasional baseball or football enthusiast in the mix, but they tend to keep their friends' awareness of this aberration muted. After all, this is a crowd that has anti-Rose Bowl Game parties each year and looks at Super Bowl Sunday as an occasion to hit the uncrowded museums, art galleries, and even an ice rink or two. Any place that doesn't have a television tuned to the game.

In 2005, I began working as the dance reviewer for one of the two Las Vegas alternative weeklies. It quickly dawned on me that articles with good photos got better placement in the magazine and were less likely to get hacked to ribbons by the editors. But I'm not a photographer, and I certainly didn't have a decent camera or any photo-editing software. Fortunately, though, I was working in a marketing department whose art director, Jeff Speer, was an excellent photographer. I knew also that although he was an excellent graphic designer, he wanted to become recognized for his photos. His portfolio, though, had no performing arts material. However, there were a ton of baseball action shots.

Bingo! So I asked Jeff if he would be interested in taking pictures of cute girls with minimal clothing and an 80% guarantee of real publication. (Thought I would lead with the strongest part of my sales pitch.) After I filled him in on the details, he was hesitant, saying that he didn't know anything about ballet and wasn't sure how the whole thing could work. I explained to him that, just as with baseball, if the player/dancer bends his knees, there was a pretty good shot that he was going to jump in the air at some point. Only with dancers, they do it to music, and a photographer normally gets three opportunities for a good photo, as dancers often do a three-peat of the same step. Oh, and I offered to pay him a portion of every paid article that used his photos.

Within a year, Jeff had won a Dance magazine award for his dance photography — yes, he is that good — and became the official photographer for Nevada Ballet Theatre.

August 2, 2012

Cuenca, Ecuador: The Adventure Continues

On Pit Road at Parque Xtremo
Yunguilla Valley, Ecuador
It's been a busy couple of weeks around here. First, we went to Parque Xtremo in the Yunguilla Valley for the rally races. We took an excursion van from JD's Private Transportation & Custom Outings, since we don't have (or want) wheels of our own. 

Because I told them I was covering the event for Skirts and Scuffs, they introduced me to the park manager, who drove me along a section of the course to the pits and arranged for me to speak with a couple of the drivers, Then, since the races were starting, he did one of those "Hold on, I've got to get you back up top fast, as the race is just about to start." Wasn't a Sprint Cup ride, but we were hauling along the dirt track and just barely made it before the race started. That was pretty fun.
My overall impression of the park and the raceway is that it is like a road course version of the Bullring at a local home track — which is not a bad thing. Was it at Sprint Cup or F1 level, no. But it's a great place to watch young drivers. They also sponsor motocross races  the ups and downs and twists and turns of the course should make that interesting. We definitely will go again.

August 1, 2012

Rally Racing South of Zero

Parque Xtremo, Yunguilla Valley, Ecuador
Photo by K. W. Jeter
I know it will come as no surprise to Skirts and Scuffs readers that there isn’t much in the way of live NASCAR racing in South America. But, we moved to Ecuador anyway. Go figure.

Parque Xtremo
So, as soon as we arrived in Ecuador three months ago, the search was on for any event that had machines with four wheels and went fast. Fortunately, just two hours outside our Andes city of Cuenca, is a track designed for rally racing and motocross — Parque Xtremo, in the warm and arid Yunguilla Valley. Full of twists and turns and elevation changes, the 3.8 km (2.36 miles) dirt track provides for some good racing. And the backdrop — spectacular! A racetrack in a valley ringed by the Andes. So if the race has a dull spot, fans can always admire the scenery.

The creation of Ecuadorian businessman and race enthusiast Jorge Juan Eljuri Jerves, the park acts as a multipurpose event center for the surrounding area. In addition to the regional rally races and motocross events, the park hosts concerts, art exhibits, and disco parties. Which explains the cool sound system, featuring JBL arrays and Crown amps. Sweet. The park also is experiencing a major upgrade these days. Better seating, more and improved food and sundry shop services, an indoor meeting/event center, and a large water park are in the works and should be completed within the next year.

Parque Xtremo has three covered grandstands (a blessing as it was warm and high-altitude sun is strong), ranged behind uncovered seating; below is a stage with a large patio area in front, which looks to be useful as a dance floor. Each section has a good view of a large portion of the racetrack, along with a clear shot of the Start/Finish line. We were in the center grandstand, which was great for seeing the action at the top-of-the-hill curve, along with having a fairly good view of the hairpin turn section below.